Most wine is produced from grapes however there is a huge number of wine grape varietals. One way to break down all the different grape varietals is to consider where in the world it originated from. Generally, most will agree, that there are three sub-categories of wine grapes. These are: Vinifera, French- American hybrids, and Native American grapes.
Vinifera (or Vitis vinifera) are the grapes from Europe. They are the varieties that one will generally find in French wines, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay are just a few. These evolved in Europe and are not resistant to a number of grape vine diseases and pests that are present in North America. One extreme example is the Phylloxera aphid that decimated numerous French vineyards in the mid- 19th century.
French-American Hybrids are crosses of two different grape species or two Vitis. Normally, these will consist of a Vinifera and some other grape species. These are generally more resistant to a number of diseases and many have become commercially available thanks to grape breeding programs. Two research facilities, one at Cornell University and one at the University of Minnesota have created many that can withstand the cold winters in the Northern USA. Several of these varieties include Cayuga White, Corot Noir, and Marquette.
The last group of grapes is the Native American grapes. These evolved in North America and usually are resistant or at least very tolerant to diseases and pests like Phylloxera. These can generally be found in the North East USA. Native American grapes generally get turned into grape juice and because of this their aromas are what most people consider to be the “grapey” aroma. There are numerous grapes that evolved in Native American, these include: Concord, Catawba, Niagara, and Delaware, just to name a few.
-Brian Tomasello 4th Generation Outer Coastal Plain Winemaker Tomasello Winery